In a famous Old Testament passage, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “The Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). St. Matthew tells us that the conception and birth of Jesus fulfilled that prophecy. He has no doubt that Jesus is the Immanuel whose coming Isaiah foretold.
Immanuel is a Hebrew name meaning, “God with us.” Jesus was a sign to the world that God is with us. The biblical writers boldly claimed that in Jesus, God came to us by becoming one of us. He is the “with us God.” He is Immanuel.
He did not come simply to be for us, as wonderful as that might be. He came to be with us. It is almost beyond belief that God – the eternal, all-knowing, everywhere-present, always joyful, omnipotent deity – wants to be with ordinary people like us.
It is much easier to believe that he wants to be for us than it is to believe that he wants to be with us. We can accept the fact that he came to do something for us – atone for our sin, heal our diseases, give us eternal life – so long as we can picture him returning to the glory of heaven’s mansions when he’s done. But it’s hard to believe that he would choose – that he actually desires – to be with us from now on.
We’ve all seen news footage of some movie star who flies to the slums of Calcutta or some other poverty-ravaged place, writes a check for malaria drugs, and tenderly holds an emaciated child in her arms. But we know that when the photo op is over, she’ll fly back to her Hollywood mansion. We really can’t imagine the film star moving into the crowded and dirty slums, living with its people and loving them, sharing their few joys and many sorrows.
But Christmas announces God’s intention to share our lives, and to share his life with us. He apparently wants to be part of what we’re doing. He wants to share PTO meetings, and days at the shop or office. He wants to meet our friends and love our families. He wants to go to church with us, rather than just meet us there. And he wants to go back home with us when we leave.
He wants to be there on that magical day when the doctor walks into the office and announces, “You’re going to have twins!” And he wants to be with us years later, when the doctor sits down next to us and says, “I’m sorry. It’s cancer. There’s nothing we can do.”
Most of us have heard that God requires our time, money and obedience, but we’ve somehow missed the reason behind the requirement: he wants to share our lives. Perhaps the biggest problem I’ve seen church people make over the years is that they try to live the Christian life without Christ. They try for a year or two (and maybe longer) to live a for-God life instead of trusting Jesus to bring them into a with-God life.
When people try to live for God without living with God, life becomes a drudgery. It leads to hypocrisy, envy and a bevy of other sins. But God will not force himself on us. He waits for us to invite him. He waits for us to ask him to the PTO meeting. He’s ready at the drop of a pin to go with us to work. He’d positively love for us to take him to church.
Jesus didn’t come into the world so that we could live a successful and solitary Christian life. He came so that God could be with us in a shared life. If we don’t understand that, we don’t understand Christmas.
Most of us start off wanting God to do things for us. Some of us, through God’s grace and the experience of gratitude, progress to the place where we want to do something for God. That is better, but it is not best. Best is to come to the place where we want to do something – in fact, to do everything – with God. This is the abundant life Jesus said he came to give us. This is what it means to believe in Immanuel.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 12/19/2015